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Home | Film Review: Specters (1987)

Film Review: Specters (1987)


An unforgettable journey into the darkest reaches of terror.


Director – Marcello Avallone
Starring – John Pepper, Trine Michelsen, Donald Pleasence

I so wanted to like this movie. I mean really wanted to like it. You have some classic ingredients here: an old tomb deep within some catacombs that contains an ancient evil, the curse that surrounds said tomb, a group of archeology students that open it up and unleash lord knows what. You also have some great bits of dialogue about the legend surrounding the newly uncovered tomb. You get some decent kills, gratuitous nudity and best of all, the one and only Donald Pleasence.

Yep, as soon as I saw his name I thought to myself this has got to be at least a halfway decent film. I mean, c’mon, this is Donald Pleasence we’re talking about here. And he doesn’t disappoint, at least in his delivery of the warning signs and the lost legends of evil long ago. He does them in that deep, hushed voice that as far as horror voices go, is second only to Vincent Price in his ability to make you sink down into the seat further to prepare yourself for some good horror.

But alas, even Donald Pleasence can’t save this film. To be honest, it just isn’t that good. There are some inspired moments, some good traditional horror scenes but in the end it all falls flat. A perfect example of the sum of the parts not equaling the whole. Maybe the fact that the film had four credited screenwriters might have something to do with it.

So what is Specters about, anyway? Well, a group of archeology students headed up by Professor Lasky (played by Donald Pleasence) are digging in Rome, searching for a long forgotten tomb. To their luck a construction crew digging nearby accidently uncovers the entrance to some kind of vault. The good professor immediately knows that this is what they’ve been searching for.

It is here that Donald gets to deliver two great lines: “No one has crossed this threshold in two thousand years” and “whether invoked or not invoked, evil will come.” At this point I’m thinking here we go, get ready for some great stuff.

Not really. Inevitably the creature gets released despite some ominous warnings and starts to kill off those who dare enter its realm.

See, that sounds pretty cool, doesn’t it? Part of the problem lies in the poor camera work. I’m assuming the budget on this movie was pretty low and that would explain some of the sound problems and general washed out tone of the colors. The synthesizer score doesn’t help, either. In some eighties movies it works but not this one. The special effects, when they occur, aren’t much to write home about, either.

The creature, while never really seen entirely, isn’t remotely scary. Again, blame it on low budget. I suppose good rubber monster suits don’t come cheap. It growls appropriately and the actors look terrified enough of it as they meet their doom. One kill almost resembles one from A Nightmare On Elm Street minus the buckets of blood.

As for the acting, it is what it is. Donald Pleasence is the obvious standout but he isn’t asked to do all that much. Really just be the Donald Pleasence in all his other roles. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Aside from the lines mentioned above he also gets to deliver: “Legend speaks of monstrous divinities to whom human sacrifices were made” and “I saw evil, I looked into its eyes.” When I heard that last one I immediately thought of all of the Halloween films. You could have inserted that one into any of them.

In the end, Specters is a movie that I just can’t in good conscious recommend. There are some good moments here and there, and if you are a huge fan of Donald Pleasence then it’ll be good to watch once. Just don’t pay too much for it. The re-watch value is basically non-existent. Once is enough.

Specters (1987)

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